WASHINGTON, March 8, 2013 – The Agriculture Department issued a proposed rule today that would modify the labeling provisions for muscle cut commodities covered under the U.S. country-of-origin labeling (COOL) program.
“USDA expects that these changes will improve the overall operation of the program and also bring the current mandatory COOL requirements into compliance with U.S. international trade obligations,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
The proposed rule, set to be published in the March 11 Federal Register, would modify the labeling provisions for muscle cut covered commodities to require the origin designations to include information about in what country each of the production steps - born, raised, slaughtered – occurred. Further, it would remove the allowance for commingling of muscle cuts.
The USDA hopes the rule will put the U.S. meat industry in compliance with World Trade Organization (WTO) requirements.
In June 2012, the appellate body of the WTO affirmed an earlier WTO panel decision finding that U.S. COOL requirements for certain meat commodities discriminated against Canadian and Mexican livestock imports. The United States has until May 23 to come into compliance with the WTO ruling on COOL.
The proposed rule met with the expected opposition and support.
“Only the government could take a costly, cumbersome rule like mandatory country-of-origin labeling and make it worse even as it claims to ‘fix it,’ said J. Patrick Boyle, American Meat Institute president. “That’s exactly what they are doing with a new proposed rule that purportedly aims to bring the law into compliance with U.S. obligations under the World Trade Organization.”
Boyle, in a statement, said the proposed rule is “even more onerous, disruptive and expensive than the current regulation implemented in 2009.”
“The anti-free trade objectives of this labeling scheme’s proponents are no secret,” Boyle said. “Requiring us now to provide even more information at a greater cost when evidence shows consumers, by and large, are not reading the current country-of-origin information is an ill-conceived public policy option.”
Adding to opposition of the proposed rule, Scott George, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, reiterated that there is no regulatory fix to bring the U.S. COOL program into WTO compliance.
“With the amended rule, the USDA has proven that to be true,” George said. “The proposed amendments will only further hinder our trading relationships with our partners, raise the cost of beef for consumers and result in retaliatory tariffs being placed on our export products.”
George said the requirement that all products sold at retail be labeled with information noting the birth, raising and slaughter will place additional record-keeping burdens on processors and retailers.
Meanwhile, the National Farmers Union (NFU) welcomed the proposed rule.
“By requiring further clarity in labels and stronger record-keeping, the set of rules released today are a win-win for farmers, ranchers and consumers,” said NFU President Roger Johnson.
Johnson said the changes would provide consumers with more specific information about muscle cut covered commodities.
“The proposed rule is consistent with the legal analysis commissioned by NFU and other producer and consumer allies,” Johnson said.
Public comments to the proposed rule must be received by April 11 and should be submitted electronically at www.regulations.com, or mailed to Julie Henderson, director; USDA, AMS, LPS, COOL Division; 1400 Independence Ave. SW, Room 2620-S; Washington, D.C. 20250; telephone number (202) 720-4486; or fax (202) 260-4486.
To view the proposed rule, visit http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5103078
Updated March 8, 8:40 p.m.
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